Lawmakers think it's time to change the law on reporting hospital infections

Published: Apr. 18, 2014 at 9:54 PM CDT
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Some local state lawmakers think it is time to talk about changing Louisiana law given revelations about the deadly fungal infection at Children's Hospital.

Currently state law does not require the reporting of hospital acquired infections.

Children's Hospital said that when it learned there was an outbreak of mucormycosis it did a "rapid" investigation and contacted the state health departments as well as the Centers for Disease control, a federal government agency.

"There's a fairly broad list of diseases and injuries that we are obligated to report to the state of Louisiana, but this is not one of them," said John Heaton, M.D., Associate Medical Director at Children's Hospital.

That is a jarring fact for many given that five children died after contracting "mucor" as the infection is often called by medical professionals.

"For parents and families to have to find out this kind of thing through the news media is extremely alarming," said Rep. Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans.

Until this week the outbreak of the fungus tied to linens at the hospital was not widely known.

FOX 8 News first reported on the deaths Monday after learning that a study about the 2008-2009 outbreak at Children's Hospital was being published in the May edition of the Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal.

And now some legislators are ready to consider changing the law that relates to the reporting of hospital acquired infections.

State Rep. Wesley thinks the issue will be front and center during the next legislative session since new bills cannot be filed for the current session.

"We have to figure out how to get this piece done because I think it builds distrust in the general public," he said.

"Any time you have a hospital acquired infection that causes death or is a secondary component to death, I think it is something that the public has a right to know about any hospital acquired infections that reach that level," said State Senator David Heitmeier, D-Algiers.

Heitmeier is chairman of the state senate's health and welfare committee and is a practicing eye doctor.

He said medical professionals must be at the table to get it right when it comes to tweaking the current.

"I would have no problem filing with legislation as long as we bring all the stake-holders in and achieve the goal of reporting appropriate, the appropriated-ness of reporting outbreaks such as this," he said.

A local doctor who has been outspoken this week about the lack of widespread notification about the outbreak has mixed sentiments about requiring all HAI's as they are called to be reported.

"If I thought reporting of hospital acquired infections would make a difference, yes, I would support that. But I'm not sure it would make a difference, what happens oftentimes when you mandate reporting like that, is all the tests to look for things stop, and so there's less surveillance. Because what you don't detect you don't have to report, so I'm not sure mandatory reporting of hospital acquired infection would really be that effective of a mechanism," said Brobson Lutz, M.D., an infectious disease physician who is a former city health department director.

At least a couple of lawsuits were filed previously relating to the outbreak, but the hospital is only now notifying the five families. We explored what their legal rights may be so long after the deaths of the children.

"Tort law in general is one year, in medical malpractice you have up to three years because it gives you a little leeway for certain things," said FOX 8 Legal Analyst Joe Raspanti.

Still Raspanti said this situation is different.

"In this situation you fall under the category of contra non valentum which is a Latin term that if the hospital or the doctor was hiding the ball on you and you couldn't have known because of their overt actions to keep it from you then you don't have a prescriptive period of three anymore, so I think these people may have a cause of action because of the actions of the hospital," said Raspanti.

Children's Hospital said it began notifying the families of the five children who contracted the infection in the hospital and died of the outbreak. It maintains the fungus was "contributory" to their deaths, but not the primary cause because they were already gravely ill.